May 31, 2016
by Maggie Moore
There’s a cliché that states “it’s all about who you know” and that couldn’t be truer in a city like Washington, DC. When looking for an internship or a job, it’s essential that you have a network to support your search. According to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics 70 percent of all jobs hire employees through network contacts. I’m proof of that statistic myself: my last three jobs have happened because a connection told me to about the position. I get that some people think ‘networking’ is parasitic or fake but I disagree; when done properly, you’re building a circle of professionals who are interested in offering you advice, notifying you about job openings and who are genuinely interested in seeing you succeed. Building this circle – and maintaining it – takes work, follow through and follow up but it’s worth it. Here are my tips for how to ensure that networking efforts are a success:
- Don’t be afraid. Never feel guilty about asking for some important person’s time. The good guys in Washington will want to meet you, if only because you might become White House chief of staff one day and they will want you to think of them fondly. The bad guys probably won't give you the time of day and that's okay - they probably can't help you anyway.
- You aren’t there for the free food. I’ll be honest, I find formal networking events that require a name tag to be extremely uncomfortable. They remind me of Greek rush or speed dating and as an introvert I hate walking into a room where I don’t know anyone. But they serve a purpose. I’ve met many people I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. The key to making an alumni event worthwhile is to be brave and go it alone (no crutch!), be prepared with business cards and a goal (give them to three new people). After the event, be sure to follow up with any connections immediately: reference where you met, what you connected over (ex. “It was great to bond over the Girl Boss article”) and ask to talk about something specific (“I’d love to know more about the work you do in women leadership training”) and in a specific period of time (next week).
- If you aren’t finding the network you’re looking for at formal events, look elsewhere. Join professional listservs (young professionals in international development, women in foreign policy, etc.) and go to their events. Ask friends or classmates about groups to join - I’ll also ask to meet them at the first event and ask them to introduce me to a few members they know. I’ve also attended brown bag events or speaker series – not just in college but hosted by organizations I’m interested in working for in the future or on subject matter that intrigues me. Two birds, one stone: you learn something and you might also meet people interested in the same things you are.
- Connections aren’t just made at ‘name tag’ events. Your network includes past professors, classmates, past colleagues or interns, past internship supervisors, and relatives. If you’ve interned in DC before, make sure that you reach out to your old organization and ask to come by and catch up. When you graduate and move back to DC, ask to grab coffee and tell them the kind of job you’re looking for. I’ve had several former supervisors or colleagues forward me job postings because they knew I was looking – if I hadn’t told them, they wouldn’t have known to pass it along!
- Side note: Networking or nepotism will never get you the job, but it can get you an interview. That’s okay. USAjobs is a black hole and it’s extremely helpful to have a friend flag your resume. Once you’re in the interview, it’s your responsibility to blow them away and get the job. Networking will only get you in the door.
- At an informational interview, ask for advice not a job. Whether you’re following up with a person you met at a networking event or you’ve been introduced through a mutual connection or you’ve met through LinkedIn, I always try to meet face to face rather than by phone or via email. One on one time always deepens a relationship and allows for more meaningful connections. Be sure to do your homework before meeting up: skim their organization’s website or review their LinkedIn page; know who they are and ask questions about their background. Ask if you can do anything to help them – make sure this is a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Follow up is often more important than the actual informational interview. This is when you can ensure commitments made during the in person meeting are carried out. Did you promise to send them your resume? Did she say she’d introduce you to someone else? Make sure it happens! Follow up also means more than just the day after your first contact. If you’ve applied for a job and you think they might know someone at the organization, ask to be connected or for them to flag your application. Did you get the job? Tell them! Keep in touch. Your networks will benefit you throughout your career; it's not just about finding your next job.
- Say thank you. This is a big one; whether it’s a phone call, an email or a hand-written note, please tell them that you appreciate their help. Not only is it proper etiquette and ensures that they help you out next time, it shows them that you care.
- Pay it forward. Help your network out when they need it for themselves or for others. Mentor an intern through your alumni association. Offer to meet for an informational interview. You’ve been where they are – we all have. Perhaps you doubt how much advice you’re qualified to give; I had the same reservations. But you never know how helpful you’ll be!
Maggie Moore is a co-founder and board member for the B. A. Rudolph Foundation. In addition to her work with the foundation, she works as the communications officer for the U. S. Agency for International Development.more posts by Maggie Moore →